Saturday, April 14, 2012
Ke gorogile mo Botswana ka moranang 2012...
"I arrived in Botswana in April 2012"
From now forward I will hopefully be posting here on a semi-regular basis. While my posts will hopefully be dated approximately one week apart, I may not have internet access to post them on such a regular basis, thus the date on the post will be the time it is written and/or the events occurred, not the date posted. My first few posts as well as periodic posts will be more event specific as I get settled in my new community, however once settled I hope to focus more on issues than events.
On April 10th I arrived in Philadelphia for the first phase of my Peace Corps service: Staging. Staging consists of acquiring the necessary documents for travel, completing and filing necessary paperwork, meeting our fellow volunteers, and several sessions discussing logistics, Peace Corps goals and expectations, etc. The day flew by and ended with many of the trainees (until we are sworn in on June 12th we are referred to as PCTs or Peace Corps Trainees—I’ll do a post on acronyms eventually) having a ‘last meal’ at a local brewery. Afterwards we all returned to the Crowne Plaza where we were staying the ‘night’ where we prepared for our 2:45 am departure for JFK in New York. Then in true Christina-fashion I overslept my alarm and came close to missing the bus to JFK…but in reality I know I wouldn’t have been left behind, I was responsible for passports and plane tickets for the second bus. Then we were off for a very long journey.
Once arriving at JFK we began our trek as a group of 45. The morning was a tad chaotic because we arrived at the airport hours before check-in began, unable to check our luggage until after 8am we sprawled out across the terminal. However for being a group of 45 we had a surprisingly uncomplicated travel experience…at least until we arrived in Johannesburg.
The flight itself to Johannesburg was one of the more pleasurable long distance flights I have taken. South African Airways lives up to its reputation. It was comfortable, provided excellent service, food quality was better than many airlines, and with the luck of the draw there were many empty seats…and on such a long flight the extra room is priceless!
Once in Johannesburg we knew we were in for a 7 hour wait…or so we thought. As it turned out they were unable to book us all on the same flight and 6 of us (the end of the alphabet, including me of course) were bumped from the group flight. While many would groan about a 9+ hour layover I did not, I borrowed a fellow trainee’s sleeping bag and slept through most of my time in South Africa. It was our arrival in Botswana that was more memorable.
I was very grateful for the time I was able to sleep in South Africa when we landed in Botswana and realized that most of the groups luggage did not make it on their flight, and the six of us had to wait at the baggage carousel to claim over 50 bags (including our own) and make our way through customs. It was an amusingly chaotic and memorable arrival in Botswana.
After piling all of the bags into cars and trucks and strapping them to roofs we made our way from the airport to our first stop, The Big Five Lodge in Gaborone. On the way our first glimpses of Botswana were at night, we were unable to see much except a large diamond processing center located in close proximity to the airport.
April 13th was my first full day in Botswana. The day began with programming at the hotel outside Gaborone, and then we proceeded by bus to the town of Kanye, about a one hour drive from Gaborone. Kanye is the site currently used by Peace Corps Botswana for PST (Pre-Service Training) and our group will be living in Kanye until after our Swearing-In Ceremony on June 12, 2012. Our arrival in Kanye was celebrated with a Host Family Matching Ceremony were we were greeted by local officials, the Peace Corps Botswana Country Director, and other community members. After the official proceedings concluded the trainees met their host families for the next two months. Many of the trainees have never lived with a host family before and were thus nervous, but I like to think we were all quite excited. When my name was called I was greeted by my dancing, yelling, smiling host mother in a bright yellow dress. Within seconds I was at her side and holding my 6 month old host niece, whose official name is Natasha, however no one calls her this, thus I have taking to calling her ‘nana’ or ‘baby’ in Setswana. As it turned out another volunteer, Mignon, would be placed in a host family very close to mine. Our host mothers are best friends and distant relatives.
After the ceremony concluded Mignon and I were piled into the back of my host mom’s pickup truck….along with 9 bags, 3 children, and Pam and her ‘host mom’. We would later realize how against Peace Corps travel regulations this was…but what else were you to do with that many people and that much stuff?
I will go into more detail about my host family’s home, Kanye, and my host family at another time.
My second full day in Botswana came with a first-hand introduction to ‘Botswana Time’ as Mignon, our host mothers and I showed up late for the host family training session. The session was very helpful because it ensured that all host families had the same understanding of what it meant to host and what was expected of them and of us as guests. However this wasn’t necessarily relevant to our host families as they had both hosted before when Bots 11 did training in Kanye, and both of our host mothers are important community members; my host mother being an elected official and hers a teacher and guidance counselor.
The day was also full of a few good laughs. After the host family matching ceremony we were all provided with a packaged lunch from a local grocery. Mignon and I both chose the lunch labeled ‘spaghetti with chicken’. We opened our lunches to find some hunks of fatty beef on the bone, some pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw and beans…all mixed together. We could only look at one another and laugh as we sat in the back seat of the car eating this ‘mixture’. It’s a good thing I’m not a picky eater that’s for sure! (As a side note if my friend Chelsea reads this, know I thought of you at that moment.)
Our afternoon was equally amusing. Our host moms both went to collect a body for a funeral, obviously not amusing, however that we were left home with her 6 year old host-niece was. We are fairly certain that we were not there to watch her; however we were baby-sat by a 6 year old. A 6 year old, Fifi, that proceeded to spend most of the afternoon giggling as she attempted to teach us a few basic Setswana words. The evening concluded with Mignon and I scrambling to find something to fix to eat for Fifi for dinner. We scoured the cupboards looking for something we knew how to fix, and coming up with a half-hatched plan to make stir fry because samp, maize rice, maize meal, sorghum, and the other staples of the Botswana diet were very much foreign to us. As we began to fix what would have probably been a somewhat disastrous meal my host brother, 16 year old Thato showed up to pick me up. As I got ready to leave Mignon declared that if I left then that Fifi was getting peanut butter and jelly for dinner…her host sister then made a well-timed entrance just as I was leaving. I then arrived home to eat the delicious meal my host brother had fixed…it was embarrassing to be showed up by a 16 year old boy, but I would soon learn how much he really did daily at home.